DATELINE: The Amethi Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh is caught in a voltage political drama over Friday and Saturday, as Smriti Irani, textiles minister and in 2014 a key contender for the seat, is visiting the constituency. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the incumbent MP from Amethi, will also be here for two days.

The seat has long been a stronghold of the Congress party, which hasn’t been defeated here in the last three decades barring 1998, when the BJP’s Sanjay Singh defeated Satish Sharma of the Congress by a small margin. Amethi was regained by the Congress in 1999 when Sonia Gandhi was elected as MP from Amethi.

But things have moved a long way since. While Rahul Gandhi managed to defeat Smriti Irani in 2014 by a margin of almost 12 percent, his victory was far less impressive than in most Lok Sabha elections since independence.

Not only was Rahul Gandhi reduced to a vote share of just 46 percent - against his earlier shares of 71 and 66 percent in the 2009 and 2004 elections respectively - but the Congress has also conceded significant space here to its arch rival. The BJP, whose vote share in Amethi languished in single digits in 2004, garnered 37 percent of votes cast in 2014.

Things have become even more worrisome for the Congress after the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2017, when the BJP managed to win 4 of the 5 assembly seats under the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency.

The only seat the BJP lost was Gauriganj - and not to the Congress but the Samajwadi Party.

In two seats the BJP’s victory margin alone exceeded the combined vote share of the Congress, the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

In Salon the joint vote of this possible Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) exceeded that of the BJP. In Amethi the vote share of the Congress-SP-BSP trio managed to cross the 50 percent mark.

The BJP and Smriti Irani understand this arithmetic well, and party leaders and the union minister have been visiting the constituency very regularly. Minister Irani was here a fortnight ago to announce a package of Rs 77 crore for Amethi on behalf of the central government.

Today Irani will be interacting with Amethi residents and will take part in blanket distribution, and attend the inauguration function of a hospital in the district.

BJP bigwigs like Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath have also paid regular visits to Amethi in the last four years, to attend public rallies.

Corroborating the electoral data analysed by The Citizen the BJP district president for Amethi, Umashankar Pandey, asserted that Amethi was no longer a Congress bastion.

“We are very confident of winning from Amethi in the upcoming polls. Mr Gandhi failed to do any development work here. Even when the UPA was in power for 10 years, the district was completely sidelined. We have the maximum MLAs and local body members from here, so how can Amethi be a strong hold of the Congress?” Pandey asked the media.

Requesting anonymity, a Congress insider stationed in Amethi right now accompanying Rahul Gandhi on his trip here, remarked that their party foresees rough roads ahead, and does not want to take any chances.

“We have been reading the situation on the ground. There is no doubt that people are upset with the BJP at the national level, but here in Amethi the local arithmetic tells a different story. From here on we will intensify the electoral campaign and make sure our leader and MP from Amethi spends time with the people here regularly.

“It’s not just a victory we want here. We want to regain lost ground with a huge victory in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election, to save our last bastion in UP, which at the moment seems to be drifting away from us,“ she told The Citizen.

“If we are part of a Mahagathbandhan in UP and manage to sway the SP and BSP’s five assembly segments’ votes to our side, a close victory for Rahul Gandhi seems probable. But there is a little disturbance in this equation - and if a part of the SP and BSP votes go to the BJP, it might turn out to be a very close run for us even if we win,” she added.

On his two-day visit here Rahul Gandhi will inaugurate the Adhivakta Bhawan, built from his MPLAD funds. He will meet Congress party workers and leaders here, and hold a Janta Darbar (People’s Court) before participating in a condolence meet in Amethi.